WASHINGTON (CBS WASHINGTON) — A majority of American voters are comfortable with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, but concern and doubt have increased over President Obama’s religious beliefs since 2008.
Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center conducted a survey among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters that found personal religious faith is less of a priority in this election – but lingering doubts persist regarding President Obama personally.
The vast majority of those who are aware of Romney’s faith say it doesn’t concern them. Fully eight-in-ten voters who know Romney is Mormon say they are either comfortable with his faith (60%) or that it doesn’t matter to them (21%).
Along religious lines, white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants, on the one hand, and atheists and agnostics on the other, are the most likely to say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith. But unease with Romney’s religion has little impact on voting preferences. Republicans and white evangelicals overwhelmingly back Romney irrespective of their views of his faith. Meanwhile, Democrats and seculars oppose him regardless of their impression.
A separate Pew Research survey, released July 24, found that voters have little interest in learning more about Romney’s religious beliefs.
Just 16 percent said they wanted to hear more about Romney’s religious beliefs. Far more wanted to hear more about Romney’s record as governor (41%), his federal income tax returns (36%) and his record as chief executive of Bain Capital (35%).
On the other hand, scrutiny of Barack Obama’s religious faith has actually increased since 2008.
Forty-nine percent of voters surveyed said they think Obama is a Christian – which is down from 55 percent in 2008, but actually up from 38 percent in August 2010.
However, 17 percent believe that Obama is a Muslim, which is up from 12 percent in October 2008. Among conservative Republicans, 34 percent believe Obama is a Muslim, which is up from 16 percent in October 2008.
The survey also finds continued public ambivalence about the role of religion in politics. Fully 67 percent agree “It’s important to me that a president have strong religious beliefs,” an opinion that has changed little over the past decade. And more than half say they are comfortable with politicians expressing their religious beliefs.
And the public remains opposed to explicit political endorsements from churches, with two-thirds saying churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of political candidates.
The new survey also finds that 66 percent of the public says that religion is losing its influence on American life. That is little changed from 2010, but among the highest percentages saying religion is losing its influence since the question was first asked in a Gallup poll in 1957.
A small but growing share of Americans say it is good that religion’s influence is declining: Currently, 12 percent say this, up from 6 percent in 2006.